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A photo to remember: making a house a home

Charleston VAMC employee Desralei Jackson helps install a portrait photo with Douglas Barker on the wall of his new apartment.
Charleston VAMC employee Desralei Jackson helps install a portrait photo with Douglas Barker on the wall of his new apartment.

On Saturday, Nov. 2, nine Veterans went to the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center to have their portrait taken

Some Veterans brought family members and others were proud to have individual photos taken. Charleston VAMC employee and U.S. Air Force Veteran Desralei Jackson volunteered her weekend time to take professional portraits of Veterans who had been referred through the medical center’s Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) homeless program.  Through transitions of homelessness and temporary housing, many of these Veterans had lost pictures of themselves and their families.

“When you’re homeless those personal artifacts are some of the first things that go missing or get destroyed,” said Jackson. “I wanted these Veterans to have nice portraits they could be proud to display in their homes.”

Jerry DeCroker, a Charleston VAMC Volunteer and U.S. Navy Veteran, also assisted with photographs and donated the high-quality prints and frames from his local print studio Accuphoto Lab.

U.S. Navy Veteran Douglas Barker was thrilled to have his photo taken. At 60-years-old, Barker was recently diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

“This photo was taken just days after I was diagnosed with ALS,” said Barker. “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to walk in the future, but I know that I can walk now and this will be something I can look back on, something to remember what I was like before ALS.”

This photograph is the only one Barker has of himself. Together, Barker and Jackson installed the photo on the wall of his apartment—the first and only item hanging on the wall of his new apartment on James Island.  The apartment is sparsely decorated, and the walls are bear. The new portrait is helping Barker turn his house into a home.

“When you’re alone you don’t realize how many people are behind you carrying you,” said Barker. “This photo means that somebody cares.”

During her 19 years as a social worker in homeless program at the VA medical center in Dallas, Jackson, who now serves as the Equal Employment Opportunity Manager at Charleston VAMC, saw firsthand that many Veterans in her program did not have pictures of themselves—nothing personal to display. If the Veteran passed away, the family had no photos to remember them by.  Jackson noted the importance of having quality photos for family members to cherish their Veteran’s memory.

“Mr. Barker is facing such an uncertain medical future and its important that he has this photo—for himself and for his loved ones,” said Jackson.

Jackson also presented Barker with several additional prints that he could share with family and friends.

“My sister is coming in January, I can’t wait to give her one of these pictures,” said Barker.

“Mr. Barker is a proud Veteran, a positive Veteran who has been dealt some medical uncertainty,” said Jackson. “He is very gracious and he’s not letting his diagnosis stop him. He’s hopeful.”

Barker was also presented with a gift from Charleston VAMC’s voluntary service—a new home kit filled with cleaning items, towels, sheets, hygiene kit, a winter coat, picture frame and girl scout cookies.

“Through the generous donations of our Veterans we are able to supply Veterans like Mr. Baker with the items they need to get started on the right foot in their new home,” said Charleston VAMC Voluntary Service Program Manager Sue Kerver. “It was a joy to present him with the donation.”

Barker was grateful for the cleaning items, stating he “really needed some supplies to keep up his new apartment.” He was also especially grateful for the winter coat and picture frame.

“When my sister comes in January, she’s going to be bringing pictures of my nieces and family,” said Barker. “I’ll be able to put them right here in this frame.”

During Charleston VA’s “12+2 Days of Christmas” program they gather the items needed to serve Veterans throughout the year, donated items that help build gifts to Veterans like the new home kit. This year the campaign is running Dec. 2 through Dec. 15. Those interested in donating can visit the sign-up site and all items can be dropped off at the medicals center’s Voluntary Service Office before the end of the year.

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